Siem Reap is your base for visiting the nearby temples of Angkor – one of the wonders of the world.
Siem Reap is the centre for people visiting the nearby temples of Angkor, as well as the international and domestic air gateway to the temple complex. The town thrives not because of its attractions or rather bucolic nightlife, but because of its role as a base for visiting Angkor.
Siem Reap is still not a big or terribly busy place, but is expanding fast, with many comfortable and reasonably priced smaller hotels and guest houses. It’s a relaxing and welcoming town, pleasantly shaded in the vicinity of the river, still unaffected by heavy traffic and with a very friendly population, many of whom speak English. It is also a good place to eat, with a whole range of restaurants and cafés serving all kinds of cuisines – Asian, European and international.
The temples at Angkor are one of the wonders of the world. Perhaps nowhere else on earth, unless it be the Valley of the Nile in Egypt, are the relics of antiquity found on so monumental a scale. In colonial times, when the French first opened Angkor to tourism, it was usual to distinguish between the ‘Small Circuit’ comprising the central temples of the complex, and the ‘Great Circuit’, taking in the outer temples. Today, when air-conditioned taxis have replaced elephants and horses as the most popular means of transportation around Angkor, it still makes a great deal of sense to follow – at least approximately – these designated routes.
Siem Reap can be very hot between late February and early May. September sees a lot of rain, but really the Angkor area is fine for visits all year-round.
Singaporeans and citizens of most other ASEAN member states can visit Laos for 30 days without a visa. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months and that you have a return or onward ticket. Visitors from most other countries can get a 30-day visa on arrival at Siem Reap International Airport for US$20. It is also possible to apply online for an e-visa for US$25.
Cambodian riel, although most transactions above 5000 riel are made in US dollars. Credit cards have become widely accepted and most good hotels, restaurants and boutiques will accept Visa, JCB, MasterCard and sometimes Amex. Cash advances on cards are possible in some banks in Siem Reap. ATMs are widely available in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap International Airport is 8km (5 miles) from town. The journey by taxi costs US$7 and will take 15-20 minutes to the downtown area. Motos are also available and cost US2. Most hotels, as well as some of the better guesthouses, provide airport transfers for guests who have confirmed reservations.
Siem Reap is on the whole a safe town, but basic precautions should be taken to avoid falling victim to pickpockets sometimes found in the markets and tourist areas. Use a money belt, lock valuables in your hotel safe, and don't flaunt electronics and jewellery. Beware of strangers offering free drinks in bars. Druggings and robberies have been reported. Be particularly careful of water and ice; only consume water that comes from carefully sealed containers or has been boiled thoroughly. Heat exhaustion and prickly heat can result from dehydration and salt deficiency, so drink lots of fluids, avoid intense activity when the sun is strongest, and rest frequently during the day. Travellers' diarrhoea is quite common, though usually not serious; be sure to avoid dehydration problems by replacing the fluids your body will lose.
|How are you?||Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea the?|
|Fine, thanks||K'nyom sok sapbaiy|
|Goodbye||Leah suhn heuy|
|What's your name?||Lok tch muoh ey?|
|My name is…||K'nyom tch muoh…|
|Where are you from?||Niak mao pi patet nah?|
|I come from…||K'nyom mao pi…|
|Where is…?||Noev eah nah…?|
|Bus station||Kuhnlaing laan ch'noul|
|How much is…?||T'lay phonmaan|
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Angkor Wat was built for King Suryavarman II (ruled 1113–50) in the early 12th century as his state temple. As the best-preserved temple at the Angkor site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation, first Hindu and then Buddhist. It is the world's largest religious building and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag. The temple combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the galleried temple, based on early South Indian Hindu architecture. It is designed to represent Mount Meru in Hindu mythology.
Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women) is a 10th-century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is located to the north-east of the main group of temples at Angkor. This miniature temple complex is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still visible today. It is in the quality of the stone and the soft, almost mellifluous charm of the colour, that much of the secret of the temple’s appeal lies. Banteay Srei is of rectangular design, enclosed by three walls and the remains of a moat.
Preah Khan (Temple of the Sacred Sword) was built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII in the style of the Bayon and dedicated to the Buddhist religion. The temple served as a monastery and university. It was the centre of a substantial society, with almost 100,000 officials and servants. An inscribed stone stele, found at Preah Khan in 1939 indicates that the temple was once the heart of the ancient city of Nagarajayacri. The central sanctuary is cruciform, with four entranceways. Look for the ‘Hall of Dancers’, named for the carved rows of apsara which decorate the walls.
Ta Prohm (Ancestor of Brahma) was built in the Bayon style in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. It was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. In its prime the temple owned 3,140 villages and was maintained by 79,365 people including 18 high priests, 2,740 officials, 2,202 assistants and 615 dancers. What makes Ta Prohm so special is that, following an unusual archaeological decision, the jungle has only partly been cut back, leaving the buildings covered with the roots of huge banyan and kapok trees which rise high above the temple.
The Bayon, at the centre of Angkor Thom (Great City), was established in the 12th century by the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. It is thought to represent a symbolic temple-mountain and rises on three levels, the first of which bears eight cruciform gateways. These are linked by galleries containing some of the most remarkable bas-reliefs at Angkor; they combine numerous domestic and everyday scenes with historical details of battles fought by the Khmers. The domestic scenes show such things as fishermen, market scenes, festivals, cockfights, giving birth and playing chess. There are also everyday scenes from the royal palace.
The Roluos Complex
The Roluos Complex includes some of the earliest monuments of the Angkor era. Within the group three important complexes can be found. To the north of National Highway 4 stand the towers of Lolei, whilst to the south are the larger temples of Preah Ko and Bakong. Founded by King Yasovarman I (889–908), Lolei is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. Preah Ko was built by King Indravarman I (877–89) and the Bakong, the most impressive of the three sites is a late 9th-century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva.
Angkor provides limitless opportunities for cultural excursions, but to pick just one that offers a variety of architectural interests jump in a motorcycle taxi and head for Angkor Thom, which lies just to the north of Angkok Wat. Walk along the causeway that leads to the South Gate, flanked by 108 large stone figures: 54 gods on the left and an equivalent number of demons on the right. Meet your taxi on the other side of the gate and head to the centre of Angkor Thom, the magnificent Bayon. Tell your taxi to meet you at the Leper King Terrace in a couple of hours.
Entering the Bayon via the eastern entrance, slowly work your way around the magnificent bas-reliefs adorning the east and south galleries and then enter the inner sanctum and climb up to the central shrine and gaze in awe at the mysterious stone faces with their sublime smiles. Exit at the north side and walk 200 metres/yards to the Elephant Terrace. This structure is over 300 metres (984ft) long, and stretches from the Baphuon to the nearby Leper King Terrace.
Halfway along the terrace head west and enter the old royal palace area which holds at its centre Phimeanakas, the ‘aerial palace’. It’s worth climbing to the upper terrace to obtain an excellent view of the nearby Baphuon. After a gentle stroll through the palace grounds exit to the northeast and in front of you’ll see the Leper King Terrace.
In recent years sleepy Siem Reap has been transformed by the boom in visitors to Angkor, and one positive spin-off from this has been an explosion in the number of eateries offering a wide range of different cuisines, mostly of excellent standard.
A great place for a traditional western breakfast is the Central Café at the junction of Street 11 and Street 9 in the heart of the busy downtown area. Substantial fry-ups featuring sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, baked beans and eggs of your choice should set you up for a long day of temple exploration, though the delicious house speciality of scrambled eggs with Parmesan and pesto is better for the waistline. Alternatively several simple noodle stalls behind the Art Night Market offer tasty bowls of fresh Vietnamese pho or Cambodian kuthiew accompanied by a selection of fresh fruit smoothies.
For lunch check out Viroth’s at 246, Wat Bo Road. This cool, airy and stylish restaurant serves a wide selection of delicious and freshly cooked Cambodian cuisine including shredded mango salad with ground peanuts, spicy fish amoc and pork with ginger. Finish off with mango sticky rice and coconut cream accompanied by an Americano or Espresso coffee – the staff are charming and helpful.
Dinner time couldn’t be easier. Head straight out to Pub Street near the Old Market or Psar Chas. The entire street is lined with a fantastic choice of restaurants and boutique bars serving everything from French, Italian and even Mexican cuisine to local Cambodian, Thai and Vietnamese specialities, all in a very charming setting at most reasonable prices.
Central Café, Viroth’s, Pub Street.
There’s no escaping the fact that Siem Reap is a tourist town – how could it not be given the proximity of Angkor. This does at least mean, though, that there is a plethora of shopping opportunities offering everything from silk kramaa scarves and Cambodia-themed t-shirts to upmarket Buddha images, quality stone-carvings, apsara paper rubbings and even Khmer Rouge currency notes. Monument Books at the airport and at the National Museum is an excellent source of high quality information not just on Cambodia, but on Indochina as a whole.
At the lower cost end of the spectrum, the Night Market on Khum Savay Dangkum, south of the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, offers a wide range of souvenirs – some tasteful, some less so – as well as cold drinks, foot massage and lots of atmosphere. Similarly the Psar Chas or Old Market near downtown Pub Street is packed with stalls offering everything from wood carvings and metal work through t-shirts and scarves to old stamps and bank notes. It’s also a fresh food market and very atmospheric.
At the other end of the spectrum, Artisans d’Angkor on Stung Thmey Street in the downtown area sells beautifully-made high-end stone, wood and metal carvings, a wide array of silk and cotton garments, traditional paintings, Buddha images and lacquerware. Prices are fixed but fair, quality is guaranteed, and shipping can easily be arranged. What’s more, visitors can watch the skilled craftsmen and women who manufacture these gems in a series of workshops scattered around the cool and green central courtyard.
Monument Books, Night Market, Old Market, Artisans d’Angkor.